The new Fiat 500 starts from $14,000 drive-away.
The new Fiat 500 starts from $14,000 drive-away.

Road test: Designer Fiat 500 looks now at a bargain price

THIS is like finding a designer handbag in Target.

The contemporary retro little Fiat 500 has dropped to a rock-bottom $14,000 drive-away for the base model Pop.

After years being confined to a niche market, the company's Australian distributor is dragging Fiat into the mainstream via its pin-up "bambino" model.

The Fiat Chrysler Group was officially formed here one year ago, and the fledgling company is celebrating with this new 500 range and a rapidly growing stable which also includes Alfa Romeo.

And while prices have also rolled back within the Alfa range, the new 500 range will send shockwaves through Australia's ultra competitive motoring industry.

FCG president and CEO Veronica Johns said while her team was excited about the low prices, Fiat hadn't compromised on performance, safety or comfort.

It's aggressive and outstanding value for money … and a product not so long ago that was $10 grand more (just don't mention it to the current owners).

Comfort

You can't help but like the 500 design and styling. Within the compact cabin confines is reasonable space to accommodate four adults using a unique blend of glossy materials and plastics.

The driver has a unique view of the world with an outlook as cute as the exterior lines.

Primary gauges are large and circular, the speedometer sits on the outside while the tacho lies within with the digital trip computer data.

Surprisingly there is reasonable room up front and even those taller than 185cm have no issue climbing behind the wheel. As expected, things are tighter in the back - the real estate is dependent on how far the front seats are pushed rearward.

In the base model Pop things are simplistic in operation, with the flash digital stuff left to the up-spec models.

On the road

Fun is the name of the game with the Fiat 500. Best suited to the metropolitan area or around town, it is one nimble little hatch.

The pint-size proportions make parking a breeze and a button on the dash lightens the steering perfect for when you're in traffic or those ridiculously tight concrete jungles. The 1.2-litre entry-level Pop is a quality performer which belies the figures. On paper it looks like it could barely pull an eyebrow hair out of John Howard's head, but in reality it is quick and responsive.

It doesn't hammer like a sports car, but it will travel nicely on the highway at 110kmh and is adept as long as you don't expect too much extravagant performance.

We sampled three of the eight variants and the best option is the manual transmissions. The manuals are crisp with short throws between cogs. Fiat uses a Dualogic semi-automatic transmission, which takes some practice for the uninitiated.

It doesn't work like your traditional automatic and can be jerky with hard acceleration and it feels like a long time between gear changes. Just shifting into gear is unique, with an interesting cross configuration.

Like many other autos you can take control manually by shunting the lever forward and back, while the up-spec model has paddle shifters.

The 500's steering is direct yet light but you can really throw it around with a delightful response (a quick spin around a go-kart track proof of its ability). Hefty bumps can upset the suspension while also delivering a nasty thud in the cabin.

What do you get?

For $14,000 you don't expect to be in the lap of luxury, but on the standard inclusions list are a six-speaker MP3 compatible CD stereo with USB input, electric windows, Bluetooth phone connectivity, trip computer, air-con and height adjustable steering wheel.

All models have a five-star safety rating, along with seven airbags, stability control and anti-lock brakes.

In the Sport you add a body kit with a rear spoiler, 15-inch alloys (up from 14-inch steelies on the Pop), fog lights, and extra athletic touches like a button to up the acceleration ante, special seats and sports steering wheel.

The range-topping Lounge also has a fixed glass roof with sun blind, climate controlled air-con, a stop-start system, chrome bumper accents and multi-spoke alloys.

Other options

Three-door competitors include the VW up! (from $13,990), Hyundai i20 (from $15,590), Toyota Yaris (from $14,990), Opel Corsa (from $16,490) and the Kia Rio (from $15,290).

Practicality

Well, it's not family motoring. But you can fit four average-size adults inside, while the boot is okay for a suitcase.

Running costs

Given the lightweight shell with small engines, there won't be must pain at the pump. All three donks are cheap as chips when it comes to fuel consumption.

Insurance might need some shopping around, but shouldn't be prohibitive.

Funky factor

They don't come much groovier than the 500. It's retro chic at its finest.

The lowdown

Fiat has delivered a surprise packet in more ways than one. Pricing for the Pop is jaw-dropping and puts what was once seen as a designer car within reach of just about all Australians.
It may not be everyone's cup of tea in terms of styling, but the retro look will appeal to the young and young at heart.

What matters most

The good stuff: Standout styling, groovy exterior extends inside with cool use of glossy materials and layout, always smile inspiring.

What we'd like to see: Cruise control, an easier shifting automatic transmission, capped price servicing.

Warranty: The warranty and roadside assist runs for three years/150,000km.

VITAL STATISTICS

Model: Fiat 500.

Details: Three-door front-wheel drive light-size hatch or cabriolet.

Engines: 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 51kW @ 5500rpm and peak torque of 102Nm @ 3000rpm; 1.4-litre four-cylinder 74kW @ 6000rpm and 131Nm 4250rpm; 0.9-litre turbocharged two-cylinder 63kW @ 5500rpm and 145Nm 1900rpm.

Transmissions: Five or six-speed manual; Dualogic automatic.

Consumption: 5.1 litres/100km; 6.1L/100km; 3.9L/100km.

Bottom line: Hatch - Pop (m) $14,000 drive-away, Pop (a) $15,500, Sport (m) $16,900, Sport (a) $18,400, Lounge (a) $20,300, 500 Gucci (a) $23,200.

Cabrio - Pop (a) $17,900, Sport (a) $20,800, Lounge (a) 22,700, Gucci (a) $25,650.


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